- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 4, 2001

Primaries are more than a year away, but the race for Maryland's 8th Congressional District seat is on.

Four Democrats are raising record amounts of money and jockeying hard behind the scenes for the right to take on Republican Constance A. Morella, a popular, longtime incumbent.

"This thing is already making the front pages of the local papers. They would normally be lucky to get this kind of attention at this stage in an election year," pollster Carol Arscott said.

But this isn't shaping up to be the average election.

Mrs. Morella, who usually walks over Democrats with little experience and low public profiles, faces two proven state lawmakers from Montgomery County with extensive fund-raising networks, and her district likely will look a lot friendlier to Democrats after state leaders finish redrawing the political lines using new census figures.

Because Mrs. Morella barely overcame a challenge from Terry Lierman last year, Democrats lined up early this spring to file their candidacies.

"This is going to be a long haul," said state Sen. Chris Van Hollen Jr., who filed in April. "Congresswoman Morella has represented the county since 1986, and we thought it was important to start early to build a strong grass-roots organization."

Delegate Mark K. Shriver, a Kennedy family member, announced his candidacy on April 13 and spent the summer collecting huge sums of money and knocking on doors.

Mr. Shriver and Mr. Van Hollen join former U.S. trade negotiator Ira Shapiro of Potomac and three-time candidate Deborah Vollmer of Chevy Chase.

But to take on Mr. Shriver, they will have to keep up with his fund raising. He has raised $744,000, according to campaign reports filed June 30 with the Federal Election Commission.

That level puts him third in fund raising among all candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives. Mr. Shriver is behind only Rep. Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat, and House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat.

Mr. Van Hollen had raised $425,000 by June 30, the second-highest fund-raising total of any candidate nationwide challenging an incumbent, said political consultant David Heller of Mainstreet Communications. Mr. Shriver holds the top spot.

However, Mr. Van Hollen's total includes a $125,000 loan he made to his campaign. He said he made the loan to be sure he had "a good amount of cash on hand."

Mr. Shriver has said he doesn't plan to run on his family name, but his donor list shows the strong ties to the extensive Kennedy clan.

His uncle, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, has donated money, as has his Republican brother-in-law, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

"I'm grateful for their help," he said of his family. "They've helped me as I would expect anyone else who is running would get support from their family."

But the family links may help Mr. Shriver with more than just fund-raising. Mr. Van Hollen recently said Mr. Kennedy's office interfered with the endorsement process of the local branch of the Sierra Club.

Mr. Van Hollen, who is running on his strong environmental record, was concerned about a call Mr. Kennedy's chief of staff made to the club's national political director to discuss the Maryland chapter's expected endorsement of Mr. Van Hollen.

It is unclear what the district's political lines will look like until the General Assembly votes on a final redistricting plan next spring.

Proposed plans include bringing in the heavily Democratic Silver Spring area or splitting Montgomery County into at least two districts so Mr. Shriver and Mr. Van Hollen don't have to run against each other.

That more radical map has been backed by State Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, Prince George's Democrat and a member of the five-member Governor's Redistricting Advisory Committee.

"You're seeing a lot of talk by very senior Democrats in Maryland who say, 'Montgomery is the largest county in the state. Maybe we should try to draw two districts,'" Mr. Miller said.

That type of gerrymandering bothers Mrs. Morella, who has had an iron-tight grip on the district for 15 years. Popular among Republicans and Democrats alike, she called the proposed plans "an abuse of power" by Democratic leaders targeting her seat.

With no Republican challenger, Mrs. Morella has said little about the coming general election. She had only $211,000 in campaign funds by June 30, according to her FEC report, but she said she hasn't done much fund-raising yet.

She said she isn't concerned about the early start or financial advantage of some Democrats.

"It seems ridiculous to have people running this early. They have a primary, and I don't."

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